Copycat barbecue isn’t like other copycat cooking. If you don’t have wood, fire, and smoke, you just can’t make meat like the barbecue greats—end of story. Or most of the 'cue cognoscenti will tell you. The internet is full of agreement on this point: If you don’t have smoke, the world thinks, don’t bother.
The problem? “You lose the specific interaction between the smoke and the meat that causes things like the smoke ring and the sugar cookie—the specific flavor created by the interaction of smoke, meat, and fat at the bark that tastes almost sweet,” says Hugh Mangum of Mighty Quinn’s.
It’s true. Indoor renditions of brisket, pork butt, and ribs aren’t the same as their smoke-tinged, outdoor counterparts. But even if all you’ve got is an apartment oven, there’s knowledge you can borrow from the pros to make indoor barbecue-style meat that’s worth eating—from the cuts of meat to target, to the ultra low heat used to render fat and tenderize the collagen.
Just don’t call it authentic, says Jean-Paul Bourgeois of Blue Smoke, who spoke to us while on a barbecue-tasting road trip in the middle of Hill Country, Texas. “It’s treason to say that authentic barbecue is cooked with anything but real wood,” he said.
Still, we convinced Mangum and Bourgeois to help navigate this tricky and oft-maligned wood-less genre of meat cooking—and to come up with at least one upside of taking the ‘cue indoors.
“You won’t get as dirty or smell like a campfire,” Mangum says, which is “good or bad depending on how you look at it.”
Here is the complete guide to cooking barbecue at home.